Around the world, the interplay of biology and culture,
or nature and nurture, brings about differences in men’s
and women’s health, which have been largely overlooked
in clinical studies that use only men as subjects. Although
women live longer than men almost everywhere, they suffer
from more illnesses and disabilities throughout their lives.
Women’s health disadvantages often arise from gender
inequalities, which are pervasive particularly among the
poor in the developing world.
Until recently, health research and programs have paid little
attention to ways in which women and men suffer differently
from the same diseases. While little can be done to change
biological determinants of health, improving women’s health
requires recognizing and addressing gender differences and
inequalities affecting girls and women of all ages.
Sex and Gender Are Often Confused
Sex refers to the biological differences between men and
women, while gender refers to the socially and culturally
prescribed roles that men and women play and the power
differences between them. Sex and gender are often confused,
but they exert different influences on people’s lives.
Gender bias in countries where parents favor sons can
result in sex-selective abortions or female infanticide and
neglect of girl children—which are responsible for millions
of “missing girls” in Asia—and, later on, subordination
of women to their husbands. The disadvantages that girls
experience early in life have consequences for them as adults
as well as for their children. Women who are undernourished
during pregnancy risk having poor fetal growth, low birth-
weight babies, undernourished children, and poorer health
in their adult children.
How Sex and Gender Matter for Health
Slightly more male babies are born than female, but greater
male mortality throughout the lifespan means that women
typically survive longer than men. Women’s greater
longevity does not mean that women have better